Archive | Steppenwolf RSS feed for this section

Southern California Heavy

2 Jul

It’s a pity that THE DOORS get all the credit for representing Thee Darkside of the swirling kaleidoscope that was late 60’s SoCal rock. A darned shame, really, since it’s due to Jim Morrison’s lyrics, on-stage antics, and early death – more than anything musical. THE DOORS’ sound – while great! – was rooted more in nimble surf rock and jazzy improv, rather than anything approximating hard and heavy. Sonically speaking, THE DOORS weren’t as much of a challenge to the light, folksy LA approach of THE BYRDS/MAMAS & PAPAS – nor the airy, astral SF jammin’ of THE AIRPLANE, QUICKSILVER, and THE DEAD – as some would like to believe. Which meant record industry-fueled lies about Southern California rock (where it’s THE BEACH BOYS forevermore) weren’t countered anywhere near as early as they should’ve been.

Northern California had BLUE CHEER to show em how, but it was left to bands like IRON BUTTERFLY and STEPPENWOLF to start recording rock in Southern California that was actually hard and heavy. First: in a somewhat unwitting but overblown, organ-drenched VANILLA FUDGEy way. And then: in burning, riproaring hard-blues blowout fashion that rivaled their midwestern brothers (GRANK FUNK) and southern cousins (BLOODROCK) near the turn of the decade. In LA, you couldn’t get away from the music machine if ya tried . . . but gradually, such bands found audiences with a less-homogenous cross section of guys and gals outside the Sunset Strip who actually had to live/work/get by there in SoCal, day in and day out. This crowd apparently preferred crushing Gibson SGs to chiming 12-string hollow bodies, and dug listening to gtrs bass keys drums being played together en force, regardless of whether it was hitting the charts or not. The music they produced gave off a nastier, smog-choked vibe that, if not outrightly rejecting postcard California, at least provided a viable shadow alternative to the more overtly media-hyped happy sunny smiley pop concoctions coming out of LA then (see THREE DOG NIGHT).

Few records display the strengths of this time/place better than the BLUES IMAGE Open LP from 1970 released by Atco (as reissued nicely by Sundazed a few years back). These Floridian transplants’ first, self-titled LP is good, but it was here that their dynamic, latin-tinged bluesrock really came together in a well-executed whole. They grind out DEEP PURPLEish organ boog (“Pay My Dues”), commanding heavy electric blues (“Clean Love”), an all too brief stab at rocking the classics (“Fugue U”), plus a pantload of hard rockin’ tunage with a percussive Cuban influence, ala MALO – though thankfully, without the horn section and schmaltzy balladeering that dogged that band. Lots of these guys could sing and their voices were all earthy and confident, drummer Manuel Bertematti (with whom Jimi Hendrix would sometimes jam) was tight and hard-hitting, and what a great gtrist Mike Pinera once was! He doesn’t hog the spotlight, but is always ready to step up into it and rip you a new earhole when called for.

That BLUES IMAGE also managed to wedge a top-10 hit in here (“Ride Captain Ride”) is just icing on the cake. So what if it’s out of step with the rest of the LP? It’s still a great song, and it makes perfect sense they’d turn up playing it in that lost docudrama of early 70’s LA junkie streetlife, Dusty and Sweets McGee. Open is a neglected, glowing gem of the oft-ignored, heavy end of bellbottomed Southern California rock.

Do watch this quaint promo vid for their lone hit as they try their darnedest to get with the postcard California thing (as if to refute everything I’ve asserted in this post):

BLUES IMAGE – “Ride Captain Ride” 1970